I first listened to Phish in the Fall of 1994. It was my sophomore year of college, and I was living next door to this fantastic girl who was really into them. I really wanted to impress her, so I started buying their studio albums and listening to them constantly.
It turns out that this band was coming to Spartanburg, about an hour away, in late October. I knew she was going to be there, so I was determined to get tickets. My roommate wound up scoring us great seats, and we were all set to go. I even borrowed a few live tapes from a friend from high school who lived upstairs. My first live Phish was the New Year’s 1993 show, and I listened to that tape over and over again to try and prepare me for what was coming.
When listening to the tapes of Spartanburg, I can truly appreciate what a great show this was. I don't remember much about the first few songs, except that I liked “Runaway Jim” and that the melody to “Simple” was really catchy. I vividly remember getting excited to hear “Split Open”, which was a song that I knew, but getting confused as hell as the band ran through two other numbers before winding up in “Rift”. Little did I know that the two songs were the rare “Buffalo Bill” and the (at the time) semi-rare “Makisupa Policeman”. The way that the band moved through the songs with ease, seamlessly flowing from number to number without regard to succumbing to the various rhythm and tempo changes left me awestruck.
During setbreak, I took the chance to look around and gather my surroundings. The Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium is a pretty small theater and, along with the Fox in Atlanta, is one of the two smallest places that I have seen Phish. Everyone seemed to know each other; hugs and smiles and kind, warm feelings were passed around and shared continuously. I was on the left aisle, center section, and the guy across the aisle had been keeping a setlist. He filled me in on what I didn’t know, and I couldn’t believe that they had dared to play so many non-album songs! We were only about ten rows in front of the tapers’ section; I knew such a thing existed, but I couldn’t believe that so many people were so passionate about chronicling the music and that the band was so open and encouraging of it. This band seemed to break all of the rules of a traditional concert! Nothing, though, prepared me for the second set.
It opened up with “Down with Disease”, which I was incredibly excited to hear. Hoist was the first Phish album I ever heard, and “Disease” is one of the two songs that firmly inserted the hook into my mouth. It flowed beautifully into what I thought was just an absolutely beautiful jam. I later learned it was the theme from “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday”. After “Avenu” and the “TMWSIY” reprise, I began to hear some familiar guitar licks. As a classic-rock fan and longtime Who devotee, I jumped ecstatically when I recognized “Sparks”. Later on, the “YEM” was nice, as was the opening to “Antelope”. I couldn’t believe it when they stopped and changed into some song about sending a monkey home on the train. I laughed uncontrollably as Fishman belted that final chorus, much like I had when he danced around with the vacuum during “Bike”. And I again lost my marbles when they tagged “Let It Be” onto the ending of that monkey song. And then they finished the “Antelope”! So what did we get for an encore? “Harry Hood”. Sure, I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but what a treat!
Over the last few years, I have enjoyed this show on so many levels. First, I dug it because of the humor the band wove into the music, as well as the band’s obvious musical talent. Then, as I became a bigger fan, I started to appreciate the jams and the fun segues. Later, I realized what a strange setlist it truly was and how lucky I was to see a song in my first show that I will probably never see again. (“Buffalo Bill”…yes, I missed the Great Went!)
When I put it all together, it’s easy to realize what a great and underrated show it is. Things never worked out between the girl and I, as awesome of a person as she is. But I sure as hell don’t regret spending the money on the ticket! I’ve seen quite a few shows since and heard over six hundred tapes, but this show, my first, still ranks as one of my favorites.